During the primary campaign, charges that Barack Obama or his surrogates engaged in sexist politics were, perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, not all that common. For starters, much of that derision was aimed at the media -- several pundits and hosts in particular. Secondly, Hillary Clinton shied away (at least publicly) from inserting gender into the campaign, much to the consternation of her female supporters.
So it is with a little tinge of surprise and much more newsworthiness that the McCain campaign leveled charges of sexism today at Barack Obama for his treatment of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
In a comment sent out by the Arizona Republican's aides, adviser Carly Fiorina said she was "appalled by the Obama campaign's attempts to belittle Governor Sarah Palin's experience. The facts are that Sarah Palin has made more executive decisions as a Mayor and Governor than Barack Obama has made in his life. Because of Hillary Clinton's historic run for the Presidency and the treatment she received, American women are more highly tuned than ever to recognize and decry sexism in all its forms. They will not tolerate sexist treatment of Governor Palin."
As evidence, Fiorina pointed to comments from Joe Biden calling Palin "good looking" and Obama comparing his campaign staff to the "50 employees" under Palin's control as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer chimed in with a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Ignore The Chauvinists, Palin Has Real Experience:
Ms. Palin has a tangible, impressive record of achievement and executive experience. She is head of the Alaska National Guard and the chairman of two multistate agencies that make energy decisions that affect all Americans. While Barack Obama spent almost all of the past two years running for president, Ms. Palin has been running a state.
All women should be proud of Mr. McCain's selection of Ms. Palin as his running mate, an historic moment that came the week of the 88th anniversary of women's earning the right to vote. Sarah Palin will break through the glass ceiling that, as she noted on her first day as the vice presidential nominee, has 18 million new cracks thanks to Hillary Clinton.
Fiorina's Biden example may be taken out of context. The Senator was actually mocking himself, saying Palin was more pleasant on the eyes than he. And her latter complaint is more politics than gender. But Pfotenhauer and Fiorina's statements are illustrative in two ways: they suggests that the McCain camp is growing more and more concerned with the mounting criticism of Palin and are hoping (in the classical political sense) to assume the role of victim. It also demonstrates the extent to which racial and gender sensitivities will dominate the general election. In the end, moreover, it could make Hillary Clinton an even more important actor in this process as she becomes the de facto referee of what attacks on Palin are legitimate and which are out of bounds.